Tuesday, February 09, 2010

TOP STORY >> Principal leads students and soldiers

Leader staff writer

Leading teachers, students and soldiers comes easily for Warren Dupree Elementary School principal Janice Walker. She’s successfully combined what some might consider contradictory careers into a stellar set of accomplishments.

Walker is also a command sergeant major for the Army Reserve’s 489th Engineer Battalion based at Camp Robinson.

A Jacksonville resident, Walker was assigned to the 489th Battalion in June 2008.

She is the first female and the first African-American to hold that position. At one point in the past the unit was designated as an all-male organization because of its combat mission.

“Serving in that position did not come without imminent challenges but they were not insurmountable.

“I found with the dynamics of the military, we are a diverse force and even as a diverse group there are barriers we still must overcome with regard to race and gender,” Walker said.

Walker’s commander, Lt. Col. Charles Jackson, was assigned in August 2009 as battalion commander for the 489th. He, too, is the first African-American to hold that position.

Even though there are different age groups represented in her two careers, Walker is held accountable to maintain high standards both in the military and as an elementary school administrator.

Walker said she has to supervise and make timely decisions both in her military and civilian roles that have an impact on others.

“I have to use sound judgment and fact-finding approaches in addressing and resolving issues that may arise.

“Students are expected to achieve academic success. Soldiers are expected to accomplish the mission,” Walker said.

She continued, “We have 1,400 soldiers in the 489th in three states — Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. I advise and make recommendations to the battalion commander and staff on matters pertaining to enlisted personnel and their families. I also carry out policies and standards related to enlisted personnel performance and training.”

After graduating from Arkadelphia High School in May 1979, Walker and one of her cousins decided to join the Army Reserve at the city’s recruiting station. Walker had relatives who had served in the military.

She went to basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., where she was trained as a truck driver and was assigned to the 444th Maintenance Company in Camden. Soon after, Walker became a personnel administrative specialist.

Walker was transferred to several units, climbing the ranks from supervisor to military instructor, then as first sergeant, to operations sergeant to her current position as command sergeant major.

Walker has had a military career for 30 years and a career in education for 23 years.

Walker was born and raised on a farm in Arkadelphia. The farm had livestock and grew cotton and peanuts. The property also had a sorghum mill.

Walker is the youngest of 12 siblings. Her father, Booker Jones Sr., was a farmer. Her mother, Zenobia Jones, was an educator.

Zenobia owned a daycare in rural Arkadelphia.

Her parents were both from Arkadelphia and are now deceased.

Walker said her mother had a particular compassion for children.

“Both of my parents were role models. My father was a disciplinarian but always administered it with love. You can do both.” Walker said.

She said her mother stressed the importance of education.

“It wasn’t an option, it was understood as a rule. You were to go to college,” Walker said.

Four of Walker’s siblings furthered their education in college. Her other siblings chose vocational school or the military.

“We were all career-oriented individuals,” Walker said.

Walker said she originally started out going to college for a degree in elementary education, but moved to Texarkana to broaden her horizons.

“I realized it’s better to have a diverse skill set. It provides you with more opportunities to be successful,” she said.

Prior to Walker attending nursing school, she gave birth to her daughter, Shamikah.

“I was a single mom at the time. I understand the difficulties being a single mom. Even as a single mother you still meet the needs of your children. You may have to sacrifice by working hard and making good choices. You are making choices not for yourself but for your child,” Walker said.

She continued, “I wanted my daughter to grow up in an environment of love and discipline. I wanted to ensure I could provide financial support.”

Walker attended nursing school in Texarkana, Texas, in 1983. A year later she completed the program and became a license practical nurse.

Even as Warren Dupree’s principal, Walker continues to hold a current nursing certificate.

“You always have children come from the playground with minor injuries. Having a nursing background when a nurse is not present helps determine the next level of medical care,” Walker said.

“I found it very rewarding to be a nurse,” she said.

After nursing school Walker worked part time at a nursing home in Arkadelphia to support the cost of attending Henderson State for an educational degree.

Walker earned her bachelor’s degree in 1987. Later the same year she began working for the Little Rock School District.

For two years Walker taught fourth and sixth grade at Brady Elementary School. In 1989, she married her husband Michael, a graphic artist.

Afterwards, she taught fourth grade for seven years at McDermott Elementary School.

She earned her master’s degree in administrative educational leadership from the University of Central Arkansas in 1995.

In 1996, Walker left teaching and went into administration. She was an assistant principal at Rockefeller Incentive School for two years and then was assigned as an assistant principal to Terry Elementary School for a year.

Walker was hired by the Pulaski County Special School District in 1999 as principal at Landmark Fine Arts School. While there, she completed her educational leadership specialist degree and her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2003.